Created July 28, 2010
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Some natural treatments may help fight insulin resistance, a health condition known to raise your risk of type 2 diabetes1 and heart disease2. In people with insulin resistance, the body fails to respond properly to insulin (a hormone that plays a key role in using blood sugar for energy). The body produces more and more insulin to help blood sugar (or “glucose”) enter cells, but excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream and, in turn, promotes the onset of diabetes. But by pairing certain natural treatments with essential lifestyle changes, you may be able to protect against insulin resistance.
Natural Treatments and Insulin Resistance
While the presence of specific genes appears to increase your odds of developing insulin resistance, some lifestyle factors (such as being overweight and not exercising regularly) could also raise your risk for this condition. Many people with insulin resistance also show signs of metabolic syndrome3 (a cluster of health problems known to increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease, including high blood pressure4, high cholesterol5, and excess weight around your waist).
Working with your doctor to manage any major health issues should be your first step in addressing insulin resistance. In fact, by working out regularly, following a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight6, you may be able to reverse insulin resistance and reduce your risk of diabetes and other chronic illnesses. There’s also some evidence that getting sufficient sleep7 may help improve your insulin response. In addition, preliminary research suggests that the following natural treatments may offer some benefit when it comes to combating insulin resistance:
1) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Following a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids (a type of healthy fat found naturally in oily fish like salmon and sardines) may help fight insulin resistance, according to a 2008 study of 12 older adults. After eating 720 grams of fatty fish weekly and 15 ml of sardine oil daily, study members showed an improvement in insulin sensitivity (as well as a decrease in inflammation8).
Ashwagandha may help improve insulin sensitivity and normalize blood sugar levels, a 2008 study on rats shows. Often touted as an adaptogen10, ashwagandha is widely used in ayurveda11 (the traditional medicine of India).
In a 2009 study on mice, scientists discovered that 4-hydroxyisoleucine (a fenugreek-derived amino acid) may help stimulate the secretion of insulin, reduce insulin resistance, and decrease blood sugar levels. However, a 2009 research review found that there is very limited human-based evidence to support the use of fenugreek in diabetes management.
Should You Use Natural Remedies for Insulin Resistance?
Due to a lack of scientific support, it’s too soon to recommend the use of natural treatments for insulin resistance. If you’re interested in using any type of natural treatment to manage or prevent insulin resistance, make sure to consult your physician.
Anwer T, Sharma M, Pillai KK, Iqbal M. “Effect of Withania somnifera on insulin sensitivity in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus rats.” Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology 2008 102(6):498-503.
Donga E, van Dijk M, van Dijk JG, Biermasz NR, Lammers GJ, van Kralingen KW, Corssmit EP, Romijn JA. “A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jun;95(6):2963-8.
Jetté L, Harvey L, Eugeni K, Levens N. “4-Hydroxyisoleucine: a plant-derived treatment for metabolic syndrome.” Current Opinion in Investigational Drugs 2009 10(4):353-8.
Nahas R, Moher M. “Complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.” Canadian Family Physician 2009 55(6):591-6.
Tsitouras PD, Gucciardo F, Salbe AD, Heward C, Harman SM. “High omega-3 fat intake improves insulin sensitivity and reduces CRP and IL6, but does not affect other endocrine axes in healthy older adults.” Horm Metab Res. 2008 40(3):199-205.